MoneyOne sometimes wonders if certain things that get aired on TV are in fact allowed or not. For instance, ETV’s late night “interactive game show” Brain Box which purports to give away huge amounts of cash in return for answering some seemingly easy quiz questions.

Of course, a person with half a brain should be asking the question, why would anyone give away such huge amounts of money for nothing in return, and why indeed is this television show being shown late night when usually only adult movies and x-rated cellphone advertisements get aired?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious to almost anyone in that the show is in fact a scam and is pretty much designed in a way that it steals your money right from under your nose in a way which is perfectly legal (just about) and won’t raise too much flak in the media.

So firstly, how exactly does Brain Box make money off you, the unsuspecting viewer then? Well, pretty easily actually because what it does is peg its phone lines and SMS services at premium VAS rates, meaning you get to spend R7.50 for every minute spent phoning or messaging them.

So in other words, if no one phones in and no one sends them a message, they aren’t going to be making any money. So how come are they rolling in the cash then? Well, basically through some clever program design tricks, custom built to fool the average (and not so sceptical) viewer into making contact with them.

Firstly are the puzzles themselves. At first glance the puzzles are all pretty simple but on closer inspection you will see that all of them have more than one or two twists, designed to make them as impossible as possible to answer correctly. These puzzles are often laid out in as simple a manner as possible, immediately making the viewer feel that they are more intelligent than the show and thus enticing them to try their hand at answering.

Secondly, the use of a live television host is an added distraction as she is constantly urging you on to participate and stand a chance to win big amounts of money. A bit different from the magician’s assistant who is generally jaw-droppingly beautiful and placed specifically to distract the audience from whatever the magician is doing, the Brain Box host is not meant to distract, but rather to attract your attention to the puzzles, thereby luring you in and getting you to make your call.

Thirdly, clever use of onscreen timers create a sense urgency, a feeling that if you don’t attempt the puzzle now then you may very well lose this ‘easy’ opportunity to make big money. If you see a clock running down, you will respond before the time runs out!

Lastly, the show purposefully slows down the number of allowed phone calls through to the studio, thus creating a false sense that the show is in fact currently not being watched by that many people and thus lulls you into thinking that your odds of getting through are far greater than what they actually are.

Okay, so those are the onscreen tricks used to lure you in. Right, even so, if so many people are calling in then someone is bound to get the answer and thus win the money. Right?

Well not quite. You see, in a further tactic to grab even more money at less of a risk for the show producers is to run a kind of a lottery system on the incoming calls, basically only allowing 10 percent of calls through to the studio and telling the other 90% that they weren’t selected. And to swing the numbers even more in their favour, they introduce a tiered system of call screening, designed to keep you on the phone longer and thus generating a higher income for them before they finally cut your off at the last level before being accepted.

For some or other reason, people love the idea of a free lunch – that you can make money for absolutely nothing in return. And it is on this idea that these sharks feed. There are a lot of gullible people out there and as long as they don’t do anything highly illegal to part you from your money, then I am afraid that travesties like Brain Box and its ilk will continue to run on our screens.

Don’t be a fool. Don’t phone in – you are not going to win any money. If you want some cash, go work for it!

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